Youth Engagement Impeded by Pressure of Elder Legacy Need?

It is a freshly minted question for me.  Is youth engagement impeded by the pressure of older adults wanting to leave a legacy or the need to get it right?

The question began fermenting for me during the Art of Community Building training for African Nova Scotian facilitators in June of this year (2013).  It was an Open Space question posed by the (now) late Rocky Jones: how to engage the youth?  I used the Law of Two Feet to find my way to that conversation and listened in for a few minutes, trying to understand more about a question that is asked all the time in all kinds of situations.

I wondered out loud, if they really knew what the youth wanted?  That’s what they were trying to find out, they told me. You know those moments when you feel that vague stirring in your soul because something is not connecting but you’re not sure what or why?  I was in one of those moments, feeling that there was a point that was wanting to emerge – in my own mind anyway – but none of us in the conversation were hitting on it.  It was a vague sense of somehow missing the mark and it kept stirring for me.

Later at dinner, the hosting team and a few others of us continued the conversation.  Rocky and Roshanda Cummings, a young leader and apprentice host on our team who came from San Francisco to co-host with us,  got into a beautifully intense conversation about the role of elders, about Roe wondering where her elders were, with Rocky listening intently as she poured her heart out about what it was like to be a young black woman in the places she lived and traveled.

I thought about how Roe had been invited into this work – not with the question of “how do I engage you” but with the open hearted invitation of “what can we do together and I would LOVE you to come to Nova Scotia to do this work with me!”

Stillheart Roe and Kathy

I began to wonder how many conversations around youth engagement (or engagement generally) come from a place (unintentionally of course) of fear, regret, reproach or judgment.  Reproach and judgment because youth are not meeting some standard of engagement or community participation that may no longer even be relevant or of interest to youth.  Fear and regret that elders may have let youth down, let themselves down in the process, worried about what kind of legacy they are leaving youth and community.

And then I wondered, “What if a conversation with youth about how to engage them had a totally different starting point?”  Inspired by Mary Oliver, for instance, and her great question: “Tell me what it is you plan to do with your one wild and precious life!”  What if a question like that was the invitation to a conversation where we really listened to each other instead of suppositioned?  What if everything about the conversation said, “I care about you and what you care about,” if engagement came from the place of how do I support you in that which calls you from the soul, and what could we do together and learn together if we jumped into engagement from that point?

Just sensing into these two approaches, the energy shifts shape from one of burden and how do I get someone else, in this case youth, to do something they don’t seem to be particularly interested in doing to one of curiosity and eagerness as I anticipate listening in to what makes someone else come alive and imagining with them how they could do more of that!  And maybe I could do it with them!

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Interrelationship of Circle-Triangle-Square

Many people are so frustrated working within hierarchy and bureaucracy that when they are introduced to beautiful engagement processes like World Cafe, Circle Practice and Open Space, a new love affair begins.  These methodologies are powerful in re-igniting passion, hearing every voice, creating mindful and thoughtful conversational spaces that take individuals and groups into new territory.

The love affair becomes a bit jaded when people begin to say, “Conversation is great, but what about doing something?  Where is the action in these methods?  Where does decision making rest?”  As if creating meaningful and relevant conversational space and decision making or action are mutually exclusive.  In many cases though, people haven’t figured out how to make them work well together.  It is not either/or.  It is and. What is the leadership and understanding necessary to find the balance that invites both broad based engagement and effective decision making leading to wise action and movement on initiatives, especially social change initiatives inside organizations and systems?  What does it take to truly shift the shape of the world we live and work in?

Recent conversation with with Toke Moeller and Bob Wing in Brazil has sparked my curiosity and reflection on the relationship between the circle, triangle and square that we often reference in the Art of Hosting.

The circle represents the social technologies that engage people in deeper, more inclusive ways, tapping into human longing for connection and meaning.  Circle is an ancient and universal symbol of unity, wholeness, infinity, the goddess, and feminine power. It represents the sacred.

The triangle represents  hierarchy and structure within which so much work happens and decision making takes place. When the triangle points upwards, it symbolizes fire, male power and the masculine archetype.  The energy of doing and of action.

The square represents the physical world in contrast to the sacred.  In relationship with the circle and triangle, the square represents new forms of governance, stewardship or strategic thinking partnerships.

Power of Circle-Triangle-Square Interrelationships

Much of the intention behind or underneath circle or engagement strategies is to share leadership and responsibility more broadly.  We are not always clear on what that means. Sharing it doesn’t mean foregoing it as sometimes happens as people begin to experiment and play with engagement strategies.  A point is often reached where things feel stalled because we are not always clear where decision making fits or how to do it well.

Sometimes change processes fail because leaders are not clear on how decisions will be made in conjunction with engagement methodologies. They then “take back” decision making which seems to disempower the move toward shared leadership and shared responsibility.

Yet, very little gets done without decisions being made.  Clarity around decision making allows for stronger relationships and more powerful work processes.  Understanding the need for and how the circle and the triangle work together creates the space for more intentionality in processes and relationships.

There is not just one form of decision making that should always be used.  Sometimes consensus decision making is the most appropriate decision mechanism.  Other times decision making will be vested in an individual or a team that sits elsewhere in the organizational structure.  The lack of clarity around who makes what decisions when and how information flows is more likely to lead to problems more than the type of decision making structure.  The degree of trust inside of the relationships also has an impact.  In organizations or systems where the trust is high, decisions are trusted and respected no matter who makes them.  In organizations or systems where the trust is low, of course decisions are questioned and sometimes disrespected.  Quality of relationship can be improved through the circle, thus supporting the triangle better.  Clear decision making processes improve quality of relationship.

The circle and triangle  are nested inside of the square.  If the square is equated to stewarding or governance, the role of the square is about holding space and perspective from a strategic, bigger picture point of view.  Not so active in the decision making structures or in the conversational space but bringing the awareness of deeper patterns that relate to or underly any given process, initiative or movement, providing insight and perspective that then feeds back into the engagement (circle) and decision making (triangle) processes.

The danger lies not in any of these specific shapes. It is in becoming enamoured with any one of them to the exclusion of the others or disenchanted with one to the point of not wanting to engage it at all.  As I consider the work in front of me now, I will bring this deeper curiousity about the interrelationship between the circle, triangle and square into my process and coaching considerations, particularly as it relates to new leadership competencies required in a rapidly changing world.

Becoming an AoH Practitioner

One of the things that stands out from my Envision Halifax days when a team of us co-designed and co-delivered a nine month leadership program, meeting with the group once a month for either a retreat or a learning day, is how often people talked about getting their Envision “fix” – essentially being able to step out of the craziness of their workplaces into a deep breath of a different kind of space, where we often began with check-in circles and always entered into a conscious, intentional practice field of learning focused on self-leadership, team learning and community reflection and engagement.

The desire and need for this “fix” is directly related to how challenging people find it to bring their learning about new ways of interacting with people, creating the conditions for different conversations that lead to different results back into their work environments – and it is also what I hear from people who have just stepped out of their first Art of Hosting training ground.  “It is okay to do this here, but back at work, well, that’s another story.”

At the risk of stating the obvious, becoming a practitioner of anything takes…. well… practice.  And, I am aware of how risky it feels to try out new group processes or new ways of inviting conversation at work.  How many times we hear things like, “I could never use a talking piece at work.”  “I could never get our group to agree to use World Cafe.”  “People I work with would find this language strange and it may turn them off of even trying something new.”  Yes, all true AND there are always ways to begin practice.

People feel their credibility and reputation are most at risk trying something new with the people they work with all the time.   So one of the simplest possibilities is to look for other places to practice – with another team or department, in a volunteer capacity, with someone else who also wants to practice.

When we just begin to know the many and varied practices that are available through the Art of Hosting field and have little experience with them, we have less confidence in and knowledge of how the processes work and how people can be well and fully engaged in them.  Our own lack of confidence and fear can influence how the process unfolds.  For example, if the group has never participated in an Open Space before, it  may take a few minutes for them to warm up to inviting their own conversations when we open the space for their questions.  With experience, we know to be easy in that pause.  Without experience, it ignites our fears and then we want to jump in to make it happen, often over facilitating the space or the process, sometimes resulting in less than hoped for outcomes.  As grow our own experience and confidence in the impact of the process, we relax more which invites more flow and synchronicity into the space.

As for language, if it will be a barrier, don’t use it.  Rather than talking about circle practice, you could just say, “I would like to make sure we hear from every voice.  Maybe we could just go around the table and as each person speaks, the rest of us could just listen well to what they have to say.” Or, of course, whatever language suits you best.

Begin your practice in little ways.  Take little risks.  Change how you listen and see what difference shows up.  Use more questions, powerful questions, that invite people to respond differently.  Bring more curiousity to the conversations you have in the work you do.

Find places to practice the skills you want to develop more.  Find people to practice with.  Look for like minded people inside your organization with whom you can have conversations of discovery and potentially opportunities for practice.  Think of how you can intentionally shift the shape of your world.

Look for places outside of work to practice.  Take yourself back to another Art of Hosting training to deepen your understanding and skills and grow your courage.  Share success stories, small and large, so you and others can see the impact of making even small shifts.  Maybe you have an opportunity to be part of a calling team for an Art of Hosting in your organization or community.  You could look for an opportunity to apprentice in an Art of Hosting training with experienced practitioners and stewards so you learn to pay attention to and look for the nuances that can influence design, hosting and results.

Grow your confidence through practice and your practice will grow.  Don’t be discouraged easily.  Keep your eyes and ears open for opportunity, openings and invitations.  If you look for them, you will be delightfully surprised at how often they show up.

Join a community of practice.  If there isn’t one in your area, start one – even if it is just with a few people.  Join the on-line conversations and communities.  Observe and contribute when and as you are ready.

Whenever and however you can practice, do so.  Grow your courage through small victories and those victories will also grow.  You didn’t show up at an Art of Hosting training because you are risk averse.  You came because something called you.  My guess is, this work will continue to call you and you will continue to respond.  And there is a global field of practice that responds with you.  Be intentional, thoughtful and mindful and practice well.  Before you know it, you will recognize the Art of Hosting practitioner that is you.

Prototyping Collaborative Leadership at Capital Health – Citizen Engagement and Accountability

Citizen Engagement and Accountability Portfolio

In May 2009, the creation of a portfolio within Capital Health with the title of “Citizen Engagement & Accountability” presented a rare opportunity to create something that had no precedent.  The portfolio was launched in response to the strategic stream of Citizen Engagement that came out of the Strategic Quest work in 2007.

Lea Bryden was tasked with bringing together three functional areas under this new portfolio: Marketing and Communications, Community Health Boards and Patient Representatives.  In looking across the country, they found themselves virtually alone as there were no models to inform the portfolio development.

In January 2010, Kathy Jourdain and Tony Case, through Shape Shift Strategies Inc., were contracted to assist in shifting the shape of this portfolio.  The intent was to truly create a new portfolio with collective purpose, principles and streams of work and not just perpetuate the three existing functional areas under a new name.  Some of the functional work would be the same and new work would emerge through the process but all of it would be informed by the collective purpose.

This work was given context and framing by the following pre-existing pieces of work:

  • Our Promise
  • Declaration of Health
  • My Leadership: Being, Caring, Doing
  • Citizen Engagement Strategic Stream
  • 2013 Milestones

In addition to wanting to honour CEO Chris Power’s intention in asking the question: “What kind of future could we create if the vision of Our Promise and belief in our Declaration of Health showed up at each of our touch points in the course of our day?”, Lea also wanted to uncover the unique gifts and contribution of each member of the portfolio and understand how they came together as a collective.  And, it was  very much a mechanism to create a cultural shift to even greater transparency and accountability.

This process invited a design team to co-design the process.  There was initially a very specific invitation to a member of each of the three functional areas. As the process unfolded participation in the design process was completely open and transparent and those with the greatest interest and passion continued to participate in the process.  Some people showed up in the beginning because they thought they should and then kept showing up because they saw how their contribution directly influenced the design of each session.

This work took place over a period of four or five months to establish collective purpose, principles, priorities, and strategies.   It took into account other work that was underway in the organization, incorporating things like the budget planning process or the response to Capital Health’s community engagement recommendations right into the process so the portfolio could learn how and when to respond as a portfolio to other moving parts of the organization.

We knew we were making headway when we hit the groan zone.  The collective purpose and principles were articulated and we began to hear, “Oh good.  We have what we need.  Can we be done?  Can we get back to our regular work now?”  This was a signal to push back.  Lea did this by asking a simple question, “Where are we seeing evidence of our collective intention at work?”  The responses were amazing, informative and represented a turning point.

A philosophy of our work as consultants was to transfer collaborative leadership skills into the portfolio so it could flourish once our involvement came to an end.  The portfolio created a transition team to continue to guide the work and this team is also working collaboratively.

A key contributor to the success of this initiative was Lea’s willingness to foster collaborative leadership and her openness to growing her own awareness and skills in the process.

Like all significant culture shift initiatives, there are certainly bumps along the way.  But there is lasting change in the way this portfolio views itself, understands its work and engages with the public.

H1N1 and the Untold Stories

There is a new phenomenon in our world called H1N1.  The news stories are all around the vaccine: availability of the vaccine,  getting vaccinated, vaccination clinics, who has priority in being vaccinated, reactions to the vaccine, H1N1 assessment clinics, how many people have been hospitalized, how many have died, the cost of delivery, the pandemic nature of this flu.

There is an untold and evolving story around H1N1.  It is the story of innovation, breaking down silos, working across departments, flattening of decision making structures, team engagement, people rolling up their sleeves and doing what needs to be done regardless of job description and everyone pulling together to face down the issues created by what is being called a pandemic – at least here in Canada.

Being around a lot of health care folx because of my work and being in frequent conversations about engagement, we began to muse about the level of engagement of health care folx, in particular, in the pandemic planning and the delivery of the vaccine.  We came back to a familiar question: What is it about a crisis that brings out a sense of community, the power and clarity of a common goal, necessary resource allocation and alleviates common arguments, bickering or turf protection around role and resources?

How can we create these conditions in times when there is no crisis is often asked?  We are operating from the premise that it is possible to create the same conditions without a crisis.   During this particular conversation I began to entertain the question, what if it isn’t possible to fully recreate the conditions of crisis?  For instance, the province of Nova Scotia has made available millions of dollars for the roll out of the H1N1 vaccine.  Without the compelling argument of needing to control a pandemic outbreak of illness, as a for instance, what else other than crisis would so easily and readily garner financial and human resources.  One of the reasons there is normally turf protection is because when we don’t have crisis the experience is that we have more limited resources and people have to advocate for their share of budget.

My question changed.  Given that responding to the H1N1 crisis has temporarily transformed the relational field of how people are working together, what would it take to maintain some of the shift that has occurred and embed it in the organizational culture instead of allowing things to drift back – or spring back – to the way things have always been done – which is likely what will happen when the H1N1 pressure is off?  How do we capitalize on the shifted shape of the relational field to allow operation along this chaordic edge or chaordic path all or most of the time?

There is an interesting opportunity here.  As the pressure of crisis eases, will the lessons learned include new new ways of working together and the minimalization of structures and processes to support that?